One of the most important, and sometimes most difficult lesson to learn when freelancing, is how to be true to yourself and know your worth. Worst yet, is when you know your worth, but are not charging accordingly and you begin to feel disenchanted with a project, client, or even your career. Now imagine working on that same exact project while earning a fair and well-deserved salary. Your spirits would lift, your energy levels would rise, and your ability to focus and quickly deliver drafts would allow you to thrive as a designer and excel in customer service.
At the beginning of my journey as a custom wedding stationery designer, I used to spend a lot of time and energy trying to find ways to make a client’s small budget achieve similar results to that of a client who had significantly more to spend on their wedding stationery. Why? Well, first of all, I’m genuinely a nice person. I’m confident in my abilities as a designer and I’m very passionate about what I do. If I had a connection with a client who valued and appreciated my work, I found it difficult not to go the extra mile to ensure they got the most bang for their buck and provide them with the best customer service possible.
Self-care is just as important as providing great customer service.
Don't overwork yourself, especially if you're working for free.
– Dio Perez, Design & Illustration
One way I would save my customers money was by doing a lot of printing and cutting in my studio instead of sending the project out to the print shop. I didn’t have a stack cutter, so I would print the invitations on my laser printer and trim the edges with a rotary paper cutter, 2 sheets at a time. This would add at least 3 hours of manual labor to the project and I wasn’t able to bill manual labor at the same rate as design hours, so I was saving them money, but I was charging less while working longer hours, which eventually added more stress and frustration to my work day. I also spent a lot of time preparing estimates, sometimes up to 6 hours, for people that weren’t paying customers yet. Many times, because I had already spent so much time on the quote, if it was slightly over budget, I would offer discounts as an incentive, just to make sure I got the job and earn some kind of compensation for the hours I had already invested in the project. I would like to say I learned my lesson quickly, but the truth is I didn’t. For the first year or so, I just assumed this was the nature of the beast. I treated each project individually, assessing the needs of my clients first, then trying my best to give them the most value for their budget.
You see, when I first went solo 10 years ago, there wasn’t so much information available on the web, nor was there such thing as The Custom Stationery Course where I could learn all about running a custom stationery business. I learned all about it on my own, by trial and error, and it took a good year and half before I realized I could productize my services – and that, my friends, was liberating!
The power of productizing your services
Instead of spending an entire work day putting a quote together (for free) I took the guess work out of pricing by standardizing the process. My once hourly design rates were woven into a flat rate for the creation of a basic stationery ensemble. My price list clearly stated a starting budget requirement that covered the cost of this basic stationery set, which I would design and send to a professional print shop for production. This new pricing structure also included a price list for additional goods and services that would transform that basic design into a more detailed, customized piece of art, IF their budget allowed. Some of those add-ons included: computer calligraphy, wrap-around address labels, additional ink colors, rhinestones, card stock layers, etc.
Productizing my services allowed me to stop selling myself short and enabled me to focus on things that mattered without losing so much of my valuable time on tasks that drained me. The quoting process became so much easier, to the point where clients themselves could come up with a pretty close estimate of what the final cost would be, just by looking at the price list. They knew from the start that they needed a budget of at least $500 to work with me, and the price went up from there.
I know you’ve heard this before, but time is your most valuable asset. Time is money. Spend it wisely. Outsource the tasks that slow you down and those that pay you less than what your services are worth. You don’t have to do everything yourself. Find ways to simplify the process and free up your time to do the tasks that bring you joy.
Hi - I'm Dio!
Graphic Designer &
Spanglish Lettering Artist
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